CWOP a place where staff and parents can navigate the system together
We use our peers to talk about feelings of stormy weather
We have support groups to understand what we’re going through
We search into our souls, dig deep into our hearts and minds
We keep on searching, and sometimes we don’t like what we find
All the pain and shame we’ve been holding for so long
Our goal is to succeed so we can live and stand strong
A place for parents to build strength and hope
There’s terminology and history that we can use
We use our tools so we can guide parents and send them on their way
All brothers and sisters have each other to care for one another
We pull each other up when our spirits need a lift
We are so glad CWOP is helping parents to end these corruptions
Inside our hearts we believe there will be no more destruction
Child Welfare Organizing Project
One of the reasons I chose to come to the states was to see what kind of ‘head start’ the US had on the UK. My perception was that this progressive nation would have all the answers when it came to family welfare. Apart from cooking hot food to groups to entice families in and the fantastic work head start do with family engagement, I’ve learnt that the same issues exist just as much here as they do in the UK, but here it is on a much larger scale. They don’t have all the answers and there are still struggles and challenges.
CWOP however, is a radically progressive advocacy group run by parents for parents, widening the net to help catch more families. Unfortunately some of the families have fallen through these holes in the net and that’s why they are here, to find some resolve, emotional and practical support. Most of the parents who work at CWOP have overcome, drug addiction, domestic violence, homelessness resulting in having their children removed from their care, throughout their time working at CWOP they have been reunited with their children.
I enter the building in the East Harlem 110th Street. The offices are situated on the ground floor of this block of flats. The centre is run with as much professionalism of any other charity I’ve visited. Volunteers are being instructed to log every call that comes through, workers are walking purposefully around photocopying getting ready for the parent support group, giving instructions about outreach visits. I see Tracy Carter again she will be taking part in the group too. She shows me the photo of herself and me from my visit to Bridge Builders in the Bronx back at the beginning of my visit, which just seems like ages ago.
As i’m witnessing the group, I am also part of it too. Parents come here to talk about their experiences and gain support and advice from people who have also been there. We start with a prayer and we all stand up and hold hands in a circle – nice ice breaker. They get me to begin. So I introduce myself and explain why i’m here, how lucky I feel to be able to be part of the group. Everyone is okay with me being here. I say I’ve got two children, 7 and 10 years old, and how I sometimes find it hard, giving it 100% and realising that if you do that you have to keep doing that and feel you start to feel the strain. I feel a bit of a fraud, I haven’t seen my children for 4 weeks but that’s entirely for different reasons but they all nod agree with what I’m saying and I feel accepted. I say being a Mum helps me work with families, I can offer advice and empathy.
There is a shared knowledge with the families here, they know what it feels like to have their child taken away, either, from court leaving with an empty stroller or being pulled from their arms. The support is tangible you can feel peoples bodies relaxing and freeing themselves of worry and burden. It illustrates that life goes on and you have to keep moving forward. The solidarity and collective energy is very powerful and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the warmth and acceptance I felt from that group. At times it felt hard to keep it together, I felt that it would be disrespectful for me to show my emotions, especially when they had come through so much. Ultimately they are all people with feelings, you see how health ailments perpetuate the situation, how when you are separated from your child you don’t eat, you don’t sleep, how can this be useful when you are trying to get them back or navigate the matrix of the welfare system.
There aren’t many here today, they say it’s because of the weather now its’ colder, but they tell me its usually packed and people are squashed like in the subway. There is coffee available made by Wanda. Also, a range of fruit juices, and water. There is a tray loaded with freshly made sandwiches which everyone including me is eating. One parent tells me she loves coming here, she doesn’t have to worry about feeding her child (she has access to) and he can play and she can get support. The tiled floor expands into another room which has resources, books, and toys. This young mum tells me she learns so much from her child, and that he is her best educator.
Later I meet with Sandra Killett (Parent Advocate) she is the newly appointed Executive Director. Sandra went through battles with system she originally sought to get help from. She says that CWOP is giving the parents a voice. It attracts parents who need help to come and get it, come through the other side and eventually help others. They outreach at events and they promote their work at ACS which she says they are penetrating ‘small pockets of departments’ with the work they do. The mission is to illustrate that such a strict linear system does not fit with the complex context of a family dynamics. Their goal is get family services to listen to parents experiences to help change policy. Sandra says the system would be totally different if the commissioner had been affected by the system.
This is parent partnership in action, helping restore families and preserving at the same time. This is progressive.